The legions of the Decent Left are on manoeuvres again. Armchair Generals Denis MacShane and Nick Cohen have both been criticising the Government for its lack of
moral fibre foreign policy involvement. It’s pretty much Decent Left boilerplate bloviating, all assuming that what the world really needs is Britain throwing its weight around and the only people who can truly understand and advocate for this great cause are members of the Eustonite media-political complex.
What is interesting in these columns is the complete inability of both MacShane and Cohen to understand why a British government of any colour might be understandably reticent at telling the world ‘no, this is how you do foreign policy’. There’s a case sometimes for obfuscating about the effects of your previous advice, but this is simply ignoring it and pretending that the Blair years and their foreign policy never happened. (There’s no mention of ‘Iraq’ in either column, probably unsurprisingly) If you’re purporting to give advice, it’s usually best to begin by addressing the world you’re in, not the world you wish you were in. Foreign policy doesn’t take place in a vacuum, and Britain’s previous actions have an effect on its diplomatic strength.
But then, this complete ignorance of the past appears to have struck MacShane to such an effect he can’t remember important events in his own life and career, let alone military and diplomatic history. How else can you explain him writing the following with a (presumably) straight face?
Despite the UK’s excellent think-tanks on foreign policy from the venerable Chatham House to the newer European Council on Foreign Relations and Centre for European Reform fewer and fewer MPs of any party show an interest and very rarely attend foreign policy seminars and conferences.
Surely MacShane can recall very good reasons from his career why MPs might be somewhat reticent about going to foreign policy seminars and conferences? Yet again, that mistakes might have been made in the past are completely ignored, which leads to a bizarre vision of the present unhitched from any context or consequence.
So, the media offensive has been attempted, but by refusing to recognise the circumstances it’s taking place in, it’s not likely to have much chance of achieving its aims. Which, fittingly, is pretty much the same as the wars Cohen, MacShane et al advocated turned out too.